The Instructor of Gestures

An excerpt from The Benjamenta College of Art



In the great hall there is a class being taught, because sometimes a class will end up here, for one reason or another or for no reason at all, and if there is a reason it is usually to do with the light and if there is not it is usually the light as well, because of how satisfying it is to bask in it, and here is an instructor sitting at a table. It is the kind of table that would be in a café if it were not here; she sits at the table and there is a cup of tea in front of her, it sits in a saucer and she has a book in her hands, an old cloth-bound book with pages yellowing at the edges. She sits and she reads and around her are students sitting on stools with pads of paper or sketchbooks, some of them are using easels but not all of them or even most of them, and they draw as the instructor sits and reads.

Occasionally she will stop, and when she does she looks up into the distance; she does not look at anything in particular, she is only looking away from the book and she reaches a hand toward the cup of tea on the table without looking at it— she is still looking away into the distance, as if lost in thought, and she sips from the cup, returns it to its saucer and then goes back to her reading. This is one of the instructors. She teaches gestures, when she first came to the college that meant that she taught her students what it meant to draw a movement, how to preserve it in the stillness of a line, and for a while that was what she taught and how she taught but one day, when she was standing in front of a classroom, frozen in mid-stride—she had been demonstrating the moment of anticipation that happens in the body just before a step lands on the ground, how the anticipation slides into the step itself and how that is what walking is like—and she looked up and she saw her students drawing. This was not new, she had been watching students draw for years at this point, but this time when she looked up she saw something new, she saw that everything her students were doing was a gesture too, and how they were moving in response to her, even if they did not realize that that was what they were doing, and she was moving in response to them, in a kind of measured and meditative dance.

Now when she teaches, when her students sit around her to draw her reading, to draw what it is to be still and distracted by thoughts of something else that is somewhere else, as they start to get a feel for what that distance is like she ever so subtly changes the way that she is sitting—sometimes it is a change to the tilt of her head, sometimes it is how she is holding the book—whatever it is, it is to draw them further into what she is doing. She can feel them with her in the wide open contemplative space she has made, and she watches for how they try to make sense of it, of what it could look like, and when their pencils start to move more slowly, more evenly, she knows they have got it, and she takes a sip of her tea.


Benjamenta College of Art cover